The picture will take care of the other 997…
Rikk Flohr © 2013
Everyone who has done any studying of art and composition is well versed in the concept of the Rule of Thirds. Loyal readers of this blog should be familiar with the concept of the Rule of Fifths as well.
Essentially if you divide any artistic work into a grid 3×3 similar to a tic-tac-toe game, your subject and the most important elements should be placed at the intersection of the gridlines. Similarly, the Rule of Fifths allows you to place an image in certain circumstances on a 5×5 grid at the intersection of the 1/5 lines. Very seldom (make that almost never) has anyone asked why there is a Rule of Thirds and Fifths but no Rule of Fourths.
The picture on the left is a classic Rule of Thirds deployment of the subject (the Moon). The picture on the right is the Rule of Fifths deployment which is the general limit as to the placement of a strong subject and still hold it in-frame. There are exceptions, of course, I and I will, on rare occasion, drive the moon or sun clear to the rule of the sevenths — but only where the composition warrants.
In this image series, composition is simple and we don’t have a lot of competing elements other than the backdrop of the cloud-strewn skies. We also have the liberty, due to the lack of intruding distractions to center the moon right on the Power Points of the rules. This allows for a rather dispassionate analysis of the composition.
We can even take it closer to the edge by invoking the Rule of Sevenths. But even though we are working on the precipice, the composition still holds.
Taking a look at the comparison pairs: 3v4 and 4v5. Although there is no right answer, I would argue that, side-by-side, 3 looks better than 4 and 5 looks better than 4. My opinion to be certain and you may differ. History is on my side. Books and experts gravitate to this position. Is there a reason?
One of the rules of composition is the Rule of Odds which says that human aesthetics, all things being equal, tend to prefer arrangements of objects and space in odd rather than even numbers. One moon looks better than two. Three looks better than two. The same holds true of space. Odd space looks better than even space in a broad sense. Other rules intrude such as grounding, or space, direction, intrusions, etc. and these force our compositional placements to alter slightly from the simplistic view of a full moon in a textured sky.
So, ultimately, why no Rule of Fourths? Thirds and Fifths look better. Unless other compositional elements intrude, you should go with the strongest placement of your subject. When it comes to “rules” odds will be in your favor.
Rikk Flohr © 2013
Badger in the Grass is a photograph from my recent workshop to Badlands National Park. As an instructor on the Badlands Winter Wildlife workshop, it is important to get my clients close to compelling views of wildlife. A participant and I followed this badger for nearly a quarter mile to get this shot. Badger in the Grass went through surprisingly few iterations. The uncropped image shown below is very simple — which complicates things. Blue Sky, razor-thin depth of field and an obvious subject give us the old Bob Seger quandary “… what to leave in, what to leave out”
A closer examination of the uncropped original above shows a dead-center subject that doesn’t quite work. The reason for the in-camera framing is that I shoot wildlife with only the center focus point enabled. I want to chose where the image focuses to ensure the tightness of the focal lock on the animal’s face. That leaves us with the ability to chop off non-contributing portions of the image to improve our composition. Those portions are not always obvious.
This crop was actually my second crop. Ultimately the first crop became my final choice but not before I agonized over this crop. The American Badger has been moved to the lower-right power point to emphasize the uncovered eye. I left unfocused grass, sharp grass, unfocused hillside and finally sky to give myself depth.
In final analysis of which crop to use, the two dark bands in the blue sky offered enough of a distraction for me to sacrifice the depth of having the sky in the scene and the Rule of Thirds composition. Those two shadows are actually very nearby out-of-focus strands of prairie grass. I was laying on my belly for these captures meaning not only was there a badger in the grass — there was a photographer in the grass as well.
Here is an overlay of the crop I decided upon. I decided to omit the sky and with it the depth. The badger is long and low and the crop needs to be long and low as well. This allows space in our mind for the long badger body, hidden in the grass, but within our expectations, to occupy. The nearby grass shadows aren’t as obvious without the sky and that solves another dilemma. The closer crop makes the badger encounter seem more personal and engages the viewer.
When all is said and done, I have a very mono-tone image because I have left out the blue skies, which, while natural, took away from the overall golden tone of the image. Black. white and gold, and a badger in the grass… staring at a photographer in the grass… and ultimately you.
Rikk Flohr © 2012